Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Week 8: Be Whose Hero, Again?

Gotta keep it relatively short this week, I'm afraid.

It's interesting that J.G. Jones' 52 cover blog over at Wizard mentions that this week's cover is inspired by WPA posters--the design made me think "Russian Constructivist" right away. (The big hammer John Henry is holding added to that impression.) Once again, it's a lovely cover--the background in the right half suggests the Trylon and Perisphere--and once again, there's a continuity error with the interior of the comic: where's John Henry's facial hair?

The slogan for Luthor's program, catchy enough that it's on the cover too, is "Be Your Own Hero." It's a trickier line than it looks like--not "be a hero," but "be your own hero." The nine million or so Google hits for "be your own," other than the ones about Be Your Own Pet, are mostly about ways in which it's possible to serve oneself--and "heroism" requires service to somebody else. (Even if it's meant in the sense of "idol": you can't be the person you yourself look up to!)

Still, there's a subtext of self-reliance to "be your own" anything, and self-reliance is pretty clearly what John Henry's trying to inspire in Natasha, whether she likes it or not. (I've said this before, but the version of Natasha that Christopher Priest wrote in his run on Steel was one of my favorite comics characters ever. But I liked her a lot better when she was a too-clever-for-her-own-good teenage girl her uncle was trying to keep out of normal teenage-girl trouble, rather than an irritable wannabe superhero.)

The flip side of self-reliance, though, is claiming what doesn't belong to you--hence the "Thief" title--which a bunch of characters are doing. (Nat with her powers; the two characters in the deli dustup; Supernova, as far as Booster's concerned, with Booster's reputation as the new Superman; Luthor with the lives of his "slaves," including both John Henry and Natasha.)

And self-reliance, taken to extremes, can also mean not being able, or willing, to rely on anyone else. "What can one man do?" Green Arrow asks. As a few other people have already pointed out, that question was already asked--although not by him--in this classic issue, in which Ollie decided to run for mayor--a story that was Elliot S! Maggin's first comics story, written as a college term paper. (The Absorbascon covered that episode here, including Ollie asking Bruce Wayne about his experience being a Senator in this issue.) (Hey, Barbara Gordon was elected to the House of Representatives for a term, too! But that was later.)

Anyway, "What Can One Man Do?" That was the classic one. Not So Classic, pt. 1: this issue, in which Ollie decides that actually he doesn't want to run for mayor after all. Not So Classic, pt. 2: this issue, in which Ollie finds the answer to the initial question--title of Green Arrow story: "One Man Can Cry." Actually, he can write an opinion column in the local paper. And cry.

Speaking of Green Arrow, Neal Adams covers, World's Finest, and absent facial hair, Wizard's 52 Roundup made a good call this week bringing up this issue, which sure seems like it might have inspired the Supernova plot (and relates nicely to this week's normal-or-superpowered theme).

The one thing that rings false about all of this is the "unlock the metagene" plot. Of DC's major characters, which ones are humans who somehow became meta-types (rather than relying on training, armor, Miraclo pills, etc.) and still are? I count the Flash, Black Lightning, Plastic Man, Firestorm, the Ray, and not too many others. "Induce mutation" would work if this were Marvel, but it's not...

I like Grant Morrison's suggestion in Seven Soldiers that you become a superhero not by getting powers one way or another, but by leaping beyond your cultural context, which is what all the Soldiers do (and none of them, except arguably Zatanna and maaaybe Bulleteer, are "superheroes" in the traditional sense). I hope Morrison carries that idea over to 52 as well; to get back to the Marxism suggested by the constructivist cover, thinking of "powers" as the same thing as "being a superhero" is just a kind of false consciousness.

Oh, and then there's the backup, which I will continue to smack around as long as it fails to improve. I think my big problem with the History of the DCU, besides the fact that it's unreadable and tedious, is that it adheres to the Big Event theory of DCU history. This issue we get The Final Night, No Man's Land, Graduation Day, War Games... and the sense that every other story about these characters is just so much ignorable fluff, a way to keep the franchise going between crossovers. Which is exactly the attitude that makes them meaningless: most of the old comics that resonated enough for 52 to refer to them were able to be something special because their creators knew they didn't count for less than any other comic published that month.

More notes:

Pg. 2: WLII is, of course, Roman numerals for W52. Of course.

Pg. 3: Has Eddy Barrows spent much time around babies? That's not a 12-pack of diapers the guy's got there. If it were about a third bigger, it could even be a 52-pack.

Pg. 4: Very much in character for Ollie. I see Ralph has shaved again since last week, or maybe he donated some of his extra facial hair to John Henry.

Pg. 6: Ollie has, of course, come back from the dead at least once (Kevin Smith etc.) and maybe twice (he sure didn't seem to be in good shape right before Superboy punched the universe)--but, as Hal Jordan knew, if Ollie could bring anyone back from the dead, it'd probably be the sniper he accidentally killed in this issue. Also, it looks like the Conner cultists have the same kind of tube Tim Drake's been messing with in Teen Titans...

Pg. 8: Apparently I was right about how John Henry got infected, not that it was that hard to figure out.

Pg. 12: Okay, that's doing a little better on the lorem-ipsum front--at least we've got one sentence that's sort of relevant to the story, even if it's not quite in newspaper style. And repeated several times.

Pg. 13: Doesn't Kala Avasti have any kind of medical-ethics-type smarts? Doctors don't generally disclose test results to anyone other than the patient--wouldn't she just have said "could you tell him to call me as soon as he gets in?" Come to think of it, doesn't John Henry have a cell phone?

Pg. 14: And if Natasha's such a super-genius, wouldn't she be bright enough to wear protective gear as well as a mask to weld, and perhaps even pull her hair back?

Pg. 16: It seems Adam has finally gotten around to shaving sometime in the last week. It also seems he's regrown a left eye, if the fourth panel isn't some kind of horrible art/coloring/editing error. And if he is still blind (as appears to be the case from the fact that Buddy's carrying him), what's he doing wearing his jet-pack? That thing's got to be heavy.

Pg. 18: Luthor's aside to Mercy Graves seems a little out of character for him--as the entertaining Lex Luthor: Man of Steel miniseries pointed out, Lex thinks of himself as always being in the right. If there's anyone in this issue who's his own hero--in the sense of being a hero to himself--Lex is the one.


At 7:50 AM, Blogger Avi Green said...

Hey Douglas, I wanted to ask, did you say a few weeks ago that Halo's reappeared? But, is it Violet Harper who does? Because as far as I know, the alien being called an Aurikle that was powering her switched bodies or something during the mid-90s (yes, it's complicated alright). What's Halo's exact state now?

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Emmet Matheson said...

Re: the tube at the Cult of Conner hideout

My first thought was that it was an old school JLA telporter.

Also, shouldn't someone be a little concerned that there's a semi-public organization named after Superboy's secret I.D.? Because if it's semi-common knowledge that Superboy was Conner Kent, shouldn't that put an unwelcome spotlight on Conner's cousin/uncle/tissue donor (was their civilian relationship ever established), who, within 52, isn't really equipped to defend himself (or his saintly parents) against any reprisals from all the people who might have a grudge against him?

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Avi Green said...

Thanks for the note on Halo, Doug.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger raphaeladidas said...

Re: Kala Avasti and John's medical info.

Although I think this was probably just sloppiness on the writer's part, it's possible that the phone call was the work of Luthor, trying to drive a (bigger) wedge between John and Natasha.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Jamie Ott said...

Anyone else get the suspicion that Supernova is a fake? I'm thinking that this guy is more of a fraud than Booster was/is and is there to spread dissent. Or at the very least, some other nefarious purpose.

And it didn't occur to me to this week's read but both Luthor and the Chinese have the tech available to 'activate' the metagene? This strike anyone else as odd that this is going on at the SAME time? I smell a third party in this.


At 12:48 PM, Blogger Kiel Phegley said...

We were talking about the issue of Natasha's phone call and why something that seems so dumb would make its way onto the page. I like the idea that Luthor has been setting this up down to the smallest detail, and that's a wonderful kind of "No Prize" explanation if we never get word on why the Dr. would act that way, but in the end, I'm more concerned that the story continues to move as fast as it has been.

There are some logically dropped moments both in the story and in the art (on top of the phone call thing, this issues image where Steel's blood exploded on pg. 9 took me a few passes to figure out what was going on). But if the price for an occasional rushed moment is that the series can fit so many story beats and characters into each issue, I'll accept them with hopes that as the series progresses the creators will work the kinks out.

And really, in general I really enjoy the "super closure" these kinds of comics create for you. An extremely well choreographed moment in the past month was All-Star Superman #4 from pages 8 to 9 when Superman reacted to Jimmy's signal watch. Clark starts taking off his jacket, Superman's in the air, and then with the page turn he's already in the midst of solving the problem. Such a fast and direct series of moments from Quitely that we don't need the usual description of action. 52 has a real chance to utilize similar moments to great effect.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Steven said...

Have we really not seen the Question for a month now?

Supernova actually strikes me as an Anti-Booster. He always leaves before anyone can thank him or learn his name (hard to get endorsements if the evening news doesn't know who you are). And good for Lit Beer for sticking with Booster in this, his hour (or week) of need.

Isn't setting a trap the opposite of pursuing?

As for page 18, that's PERFECTLY in character. Luthor may think highly of himself and his own moral correctness, but he also harbors unfathomable contempt for anyone who actually believes him. Sort of "it's your fault you're too stupid to see I'm taking advantage of you." After all, actual slaveholders thought they were heroes too.

And as for the History, okay yeah it still sucks donkey balls, but I noticed a) Black Mask killed Spoiler, which means maybe Dr. Thompkins can come back from exile now, and b) Donna, dying again.

God I love that.

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Duke said...

emmet matheson saidAlso, shouldn't someone be a little concerned that there's a semi-public organization named after Superboy's secret I.D.?

Actually, my thought has been this: If they're supposed to be so obsessed with the Kryptonian stuff as we are led to believe, wouldn't they call themselves "The Cult of Kon-El?"

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Duke said...

I'm also concerned about the Steel/metagene timeline. If not concerned, then at least confused.

Stell tells Dr. Avasti that he'd been getting all metalishous for "a couple of days." Shouldn't that be "a couple of weeks" 52 time?

Also, the last time we saw Steel, he was wearing his costume to hide the fact that at least parts of his face were metal. He seems to have learned how to control that, at least, even though he is portrayed as having no control.

And, as much trouble as he went through to hide his shiney parts before, doesn't is seem odd that he just waltzes in on his neice with both arms glinting in the sun. Why hide his problem from her for two weeks (or was it three?)and then walk in like, no bigs?

One last thought. Dr. Avisti's phone call is not only stupid. In my state, at least, it's a violation of the HIPPA regulations and damn illegal.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger T Campbell said...

Okay, that's doing a little better on the lorem-ipsum front--at least we've got one sentence that's sort of relevant to the story, even if it's not quite in newspaper style. And repeated several times.

And so utterly anti-grammatical that it looks like it was written by Bizarro Jimmy Olsen.

Come to think of it, doesn't John Henry have a cell phone?

If he's anything like my friends, that's no guarantee that it's always turned on and in his pocket.

And if Natasha's such a super-genius, wouldn't she be bright enough to wear protective gear as well as a mask to weld, and perhaps even pull her hair back?

I think it's pretty clear that Nat's a bit more eager than she is smart.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger acespot said...

p.13 Yup, Avasti's medical ethics suck.
p.14 How stupid is it to weld while wearing a halter top?

I completely agree: it should be called the "Church of Kon-El". Who the hell calls THEMSELVES a "Cult" (even if they are)?!?!?!? It makes no sense to name a Kryptonian style religious organization after a Kryptonian's human ID!

My own comments and questions:
Cover: Act Now is probably trying to evoke some wartime effort posters
p.2 Steel IS going all colossus!
P.4 Apparently Ralph doesn't WANT to be stretchy anymore.
p.5 Apparently it was Ralph's idea that Ollie should run for Mayor
p.6 what a moron...what, Ralph didn't realize Ollie had been dead?
p.7 Chromium, Nickel, Carbon, Iron==Stainless Steel? Since when?
p.12 Clark!
p.17 How does getting caught in a net knock Adam and Buddy out?
Dan Didio tells us to "Look to the skies?" Oh, no...are they going to turn red again?
p.21 Who are Atom's titans?
p.22 "For a while, so much was changing so fast that I could barely keep up!" ugh awful
Who is the golden black man behind Dick?
Who's the white-faced chick is that Jesse Quick?
p.23 "from there it seems like things just got worse" ugh awful
Oa was reconstucted by Tom Kalmaku
p.24 Who is drawing Ralph's costume? An open chest, then a solid extension, then an open neck? Ugh!

HOTDCU just gets worse and worse, and 52 just doesn't improve. It's readable...but barely.


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